Low Class A Report

Tabata shines in SAL at tender age of 17





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CHARLESTON, S.C.--It is an interesting tourist season in Charleston this year; there are almost as many baseball people in town searching for comparisons to Jose Tabata as there are travel writers looking for the best plate of Lowcountry shrimp and grits.

Andruw Jones and Ivan Rodriguez come to mind, two of the few players who have excelled in the South Atlantic League as 17-year-olds. Charleston manager Bill Mosiello didn’t see either of those guys play as teens, but he has watched his precocious right fielder enough to know most of the comparison stuff doesn’t apply.

“It’s hard for me,” Mosiello said, “because I’ve never seen a 17-year-old who is this impressive. Jose isn’t like anyone else. Words can’t really describe someone who is so far advanced. It doesn’t matter what age he is, he does everything well. He’s a good hitter, he runs the bases well and he’s actually a basestealer. He throws so well. The home run numbers will come, but right now he’s a line drive hitter with power.”

Tabata finished the first half of his first full professional season batting .310-5-43 with an .824 on-base plus slugging percentage. The success is in line with Tabata’s 2005 numbers in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He hit .314-3-25 with 22 stolen bases in 156 at-bats as the second-youngest player in the league.

The RiverDogs’ roster includes Yankees prospects like C.J. Henry, Austin Jackson and Eduardo Nunez, but Tabata sticks out. He is a great athlete with the ability to play center field. He profiles better in right field down the road, and because of the presence of Jackson it is where he is playing now.

He is a righthanded hitter with exceptional bat speed and hand-eye coordination. Despite missing a week in late May with a wrist injury, he still led Charleston after the first half with 22 multi-hit games.

Tremendous Trio

The South Atlantic League features a trio of outstanding 17-year-old prospects this season in Tabata, Braves shortstop Elvis Andrus and Mets outfielder Fernando Martinez. Andrus drew more buzz last year in the GCL, but Tabata is outperforming him this season. Martinez has been his peer in terms of production when he is on the field, but a thumb injury and knee sprain have limited him to just 131 at-bats this season, so Tabata has a leg up on the other two.

A Venezuelan who signed with the Yankees for $550,000 in 2005, Tabata was giddy about his selection to start in the South Atlantic League all-star game.

“Playing in a professional all-star game is a dream come true,” he said.

Before returning home from the festivities in Eastlake, Ohio, he got the news that he was the youngest player picked to play in the Futures Game in Pittsburgh.  

“Jose is so young and so great,” Charleston infielder Mario Holmann said. “You can just tell that he’s going to make it.”

Tabata’s upside has been linked within the farm system to Alfonso Soriano, the last premium position player the Yankees developed. His free-swinging approach also mirrors Soriano’s, as Tabata had a 16-48 strikeout-walk ratio through 232 at-bats.

Mosiello, Charleston hitting coach Torre Tyson and roving instructors have worked with Tabata on his discipline at the plate but appreciate his assertive approach.

“He really doesn’t have a weakness,” Mosiello said. “We just want him to keep doing what he’s doing. The walks-to-strikeouts aren’t great, but no one is worried about that. It’s not even an issue, just a nit-picking thing.”

The Entire Package

Coaches and instructors rave about Tabata’s coachable nature and are not concerned about fatigue, though Tabata did not homer in the first three weeks of June.

“Jose is intelligent and very respectful on and off the field,” Mosiello said. “The biggest thing that has surprised me is just how intelligent he is as he plays the game.”

Work ethic isn’t a problem, either.

“I’m enjoying the successes that I’ve had,” Tabata said, “but I’m also working hard on my weaknesses every day.”

Tabata opened the season as one of the quietest guys in the RiverDogs clubhouse, partly because he still is learning English. “But now he talks more and jokes around with us,” Holmann said.

Tabata grew up with three sisters and no brothers, the son of a petroleum company employee and a homemaker in the Venezuelan state of Anzoategui, named for Jose Antonio Anzoategui, the hero of Venezuelan independence. Tabata apparently is about to become rather well known himself.

“I am enjoying playing baseball this year even when things are not going well,” he said. “Sometimes I get a little frustrated like everyone else but I know I really shouldn’t do that because that’s baseball. I want to have fun with my teammates and I think I’ve done that this year.”

The Yankees can only hope he keeps on having this much fun.

Gene Sapakoff is a columnist for the Charleston Post-Courier.



MIDWEST HARVEST

• After missing the first half of the season to a broken left ankle, Matt Bush is finally back and trying to prevent himself from being labeled as the worst No. 1 overall pick ever.

“(I want to) raise my average up, shut people up a little,” Bush told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazzette. “I’m tired of people talking so much crap about how I haven’t done this or I haven’t done that or so what.”

Bush’s pro career began poorly when he was suspended before he ever took the field for his role in a fight outside an Arizona nightclub. He has never really gotten things going as a pro and hit .216-2-45 in his first 552 pro at bats.

“There’s no reason he shouldn’t come here and make progress,” Bill Bryk, the Padres’ minor league field coordinator, told the paper. “We’re not going to put pressure on him. It’s going to take a week or so before he feels comfortable.”

Bush has always been an exceptional defender with a plus-plus arm, but he has never gotten it going at the plate.

“He could always do that,” Bryk added. “That’s a gift he has. I expect him to be solid from the start. Hitting takes longer.”

• Jay Bruce has been affectionately referred to as “The Boss” in this magazine in reference to Bruce Springsteen, and it is about time to make the nickname official.

The 19-year-old was the youngest player in the Midwest League all-star game, but he performed like a veteran and went 3-for-5 with a home run, a double and two stolen bases to lead the East to a 7-1 victory against the West. In the process, the Reds prospect was named the games MVP.

“This was definitely the type of game that meant a lot. Whenever you come out and play beside and against the best of the best in the league, you want to put your best game out there, too,” Bruce told the Dayton Daily News. “This is the type of game that can give me a lot of confidence heading into the second half.”

The East used 11 pitchers on a five-hitter, and they fanned 12 and walked only one. Devil Rays lefthander Jacob McGee got the win, striking out two in his only inning of work.

Outfielder Colby Rasmus was the only West hitter who could get anything going, with the Cardinals prospect going 2-for-4 with a double. His Quad Cities teammate, lefthander Jaime Garcia, was tagged for three runs in his only inning of work and took the loss.

SALLYMANDERS

• With innumerable pitching changes and substitutions, all-star games typically take a lot longer than the average baseball game. But when the pitching is as good as it was in the South Atlantic League all-star game, those factors become inconsequential.

The North all-stars defeated the South 4-0 in a game that took just two hours and 15 minutes. Marlins prospect Aaron Thompson (Greensboro) got the win for the North, and he combined with eight other pitchers on a three-hitter.

The pitching for the South was almost as good, but they were undone by sloppy defense. Hickory outfielder Andrew McCutchen led off the bottom of the first for the North with a single off Rome’s Jo-Jo Reyes. He moved to third when Asheville second baseman Eric Young Jr. booted a grounder by Lexington’s Eric King before scoring on a ground out by West Virginia’s Lorezno Cain. It was all the scoring the North would need.

West Virginia’s Mat Gamel earned MVP honors by going 2-for-4 with a double. Reyes took the loss despite not allowing an earned run and fanning four over two innings.

• The Orioles’ Brandon Erbe keeps on mowing them down. A third-rounder last June out of the McDonough School in Baltimore, Erbe was 4-3, 1.86 with a 72-18 strikeout-walk ratio in 58 innings at Delmarva. He was averaging 11.17 strikeouts per nine innings, which ranked sixth in the minors.

In his first 12 starts this season, Erbe went five innings in nine of them and four innings in the other three. It’s not because he wasn’t effective, but because the organization is taking it slow with the 18-year-old.

“Five innings. That’s it,” Delmarva manager Gary Kendall told the Daily Times of Salisbury, Md. “That’s what the organization wants and they don’t want to amount a lot of innings on him.”

At 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, Erbe has a fantastic pitcher’s frame and features an electric fastball that sits in the mid-90s. His secondary stuff is still raw, but the fastball is enough for now.

Compiled by Matt Meyers